Saturday, September 09, 2006

places to play, other notions...

For some reason, playing in an art gallery really appealed to me when playing electro-music 2006. It was smoke free and focused on the music and visuals, electricity was good. Something about electronic music lends itself to objectifying the performance, the performer, and the accoutrements thereof, and setting up on the white pedestals enhanced that. It would have been even better if the chairs for the audience were more comfortable, and if the gallery had been air conditioned to be cooler, but that's hard to do. Also, acoustics, definitely not so great, but that should be expected in a generally spartan area meant to display things on stiff, flat, well-lit surfaces.

That said, playing in the club atmosphere, where the focus isn't necessarily all on the music, can be really fun. But the air can be so thick with smoke as to burn your esophagus right down to the stomach, and the reaction of the audience is often understandably blase'-- there is more important stuff going on -- but when it's appreciative it is truly so.

Having said all of that, to be able to play all original and often completely improvised electronic music even to a small audience anywhere is great, and Utenzil has been lucky in that all the audiences so far are not completely tiny.

Recently, having had an opportunity to observe some music listening audiences across a wide demographic and range of tastes at an event where the music was 'accompaniment' to the main activity, the following conclusions are drawn:

  • 95-100% of a music listening audience will respond either neutrally or favorably to rhythmic electronic music, based on head bobbing/semi-dancing behavior observed.
  • This response is more obvious among females than males.
  • Out of the 100%, 5-10% respond extremely favorably, such that one can reasonably expect that these would choose to attend an electronic music performance, given the opportunity.
  • Of the small percentage that respond negatively, some signifcant subset are electronic music aficianados, and the basis for their response is that the particular instance is not one they are fond of and the others are strongly attached to a particular non-electronic genre (that is, in both cases a kind of musical elitism is to blame).

    However, more negative response is provoked when an event is primarily music focused *and* the electronic music is being purveyed in a venue setting that is strongly associated with another genre.

    It is the case that modern electronic music is associated with raves and discos (or raves at discos). However, electronic music is largely a descendant of avant garde symphonic music.

    This causes the offering to teeter on ledge in the US, it falls over into the bin of background music for debauchery, or into the bin of esoteric artsy endeavour. In Europe, an additional bin is added: mainstream pop, and there is also the "DJ" vs. "Producer" vs. "Artist" dimension.

    If there is an analog to this anywhere, it's maybe Frank Zappa. This was someone who embraced new music technology and put it into practice, both innovator and early adopter. But the genre was definitely "rock", with some qualifier (hard, Progressive, experimental, fusion) even though it was often very un-rock like music, and much more towards jazz. The methods employed by Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were sophisticated, and even when the music was sophisticated it was often 'thrown away' in the service of a larger story or motif (a great example is Billy the Mountain). But, musicially, it could fall into the rock, jazz or 'totally experiemental' bins equally well, sometimes even within a single piece.

    A difference would be that there was also a social movement that Zappa served as something of an icon for, similar to the way the Grateful Dead did, and so there was an additional dimension for definition. A fair amount of music has this dimension in a way that electronic music does not. It is wrong to say that electronic music in it's entireity 'stands for' the semi-waning rave culture, but there is a subset of it that definitely does. While the idealized naive music listener who was 'browsing' electronic music for the first time at random would not know the association between artists and fads unless told, the typical real world music listener has a better grasp of the faddish aspects as opposed to the music per se, and as such condemn all such types of music when a particular fad was waning. Some music instantly conjures up images of zoot suits, or leisure suits, or hippies, or truckers.

    The obvious pattern is that music that is associated with a social movement or faddish lifestyle niche fades along with that movement or fad. Truly great examples of a fad-borne genre might endure, like the enigmatic statues on Easter Island, but it would tend to be at least 20 or more years before artists might re-examine that strain of music for further development, because of the strong association with a defunct mode.

    But the long and short is that in many musical genres there is always some current incarnation of 'bohemian' and 'classical' and 'mainstream' zones of a genre, and while primarily bohemian Zappa was able to navigate in all of those and also influence the larger genre and even ongoing practices in music as a whole, which is a cool thing to be able to do.
  • Friday, September 08, 2006

    The VALIS collective...

    As mentioned earlier, Utenzil played a part of the VALIS collective in Baltimore at the Ottobar. 5 laptops, it sounded great, and there was video projected. The 'stage area' (really an area around a DJ booth) was bathed in a kind of red light. Here is a picture, I am the ghostly image in the background, the twin-necked MIDI Guitron faintly visible. Foreground is Pulsoc, the organizer of the event:

    Now, understand utenzil is just looking for places to play. Someone asked me 'what's the scene like?' when I mentioned I was playing there. Utenzil, he really can't tell you until he starts playing there. He can tell you he thinks the people he'll be going to play with are worth listening to. Ol' Utenzil just is happy to have a place to play.

    But that night, the scene was lots of people dressed in black t-shirts and jeans, even number of genders, ages looked like anywhere between 21 to 60, with the median around 28. There are two pool tables, which were not in use while we played. Most of the acts booked there are metal/alt/punk, but there is a wide range including hip hop/rap and DJ.

    It was a good experience. Some of the sounds, the beats especially, were really great, and it is an honor to play with the collective.


    I came across a blog that is written by someone i used to work with that I knew, and a blog written by someone else that still works where I used to work in a much different capacity, but who I did not know.

    The someone I knew was, and judging from the blog, still is, almost utterly full of themselves. This person could take a breath of air at the beginning of a meeting, and not finish expelling it through their vocal cords until the end of the meeting, fully consuming the time of all concerned and accomplishing next to nothing. This person was two faced, self-serving and beetle-y-browed: this person had their agenda, and did not care about anything, including the truth unless it served the purpose of that agenda. Hmmm, wait-- "beetle-y browed" is not the right description: this person would look out from hollow eyes when confronted with the unexpected truth, with sort of dark circles under the eyes, eyes which would glaze over-- dull, dull as mud: as a zombie might-- a zombie to the agenda.

    This person would revise history, unilaterally concoct descriptions of events and things that they did not participate in or understand in a way that would serve that agenda. Most frustrating, this person was supposed to have an engineering degree, but did not seem to understand scientific method, or at least hold it worth pursing, in which a theory should be proved before acting upon it based on the gathering of data which may have a generally high cost: that it is not enough to make a choice that affects a population because it serves your agenda because you can get away with it, but that you need data to support that choice and to understand the nature of the problem, which may come at a cost but which ultimately gains you full integrity. Of course, you need to want integrity before you seek it, and now I see how it all fits.

    The second person who I don't know, an embittered and petty complainer, who may well be operating their site of bitter and petty complaints about the company they work in as an attempt to ferret out ex-employees of this company who might be disgruntled, described working a company in which people like the one I just described reign supreme.

    So it strikes me how happy I am to no longer be working there, and how sad I am to have wasted the time. It wouldn't have been so bad if that company had not made it seem like one of their main things was to improve the world, rather than to continue to bolster up their executive branch, which survives by lopping off the other limbs.

    I can understand that when you make money, it makes you feel like you are doing the right thing-- not just money, but achieve 'success', and that the success is somehow a 'reward' for that good thing, for *you* being good, in more ways than just compensation for well executed work or solid planning: you may believe that it justifies you, even if you are really, utterly self serving and don't really want to know anything new, make anything new, or help anyone else make or know anything new.

    But it does not, and it never will, because you cannot escape from it if you've allowed yourself to become that way, the agenda zombie-- and if you could, you would see that you are the ultimate loser.

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    performances, one other thing...

    All the performances I've been involved with recently happened mainly because of people with booking contacts. I thank these people very much, they take a chance when they set up events that involve people they maybe don't know so well. Doug, from 302acid, Wlll/Pulsoc, Craig, from Baltitronic, all of these people took a chance on me more than once, and I really appreciate that.


    It was a dark and stormy night...

    Played Paloma's on 9/1, remnants of a hurricane moving through Maryland. Driving into Baltimore, bit of sideslipping on the interstate-- rain not too bad, but very strong winds.

    I got there, not too many in attendance, that's ok. I went first. Sent went perfectly, had a great time playing. The electrical issues, lack of outlets, had been solved. 'The Last of Us' followed me. His set was going well, he was getting into it, cooking up some nice beats-- blam, the electricity went for blocks around.

    But the show went on-- there was some spontaneous group rhythmic vocalizing, candles were lit, a hand drum appeared, some people that could play it (including myself for a little bit) ... it took me back to the band days, and it was very pleasant.

    On the way home, my left front tire blewout on the interstate. This made me very sad, had to call a tow truck, delayed by the roadside for about an hour and a half, got cold and wet when pulling things from the trunk, shivered most of the way home.

    Valis at the Ottobar on 9/2 was well attended. Five laptop performers, all from Maryland this time. The sound was good, some very good drums, generally well coordinated, not too many hiccups, and the audience seemed inclined to let those off easy. There were people in the crowd that stayed through pretty much the entire three hours. Somebody had picked some very strange visuals to show, not sure I was so down with that, but definitely interesting juxtapositions of elements: very very edgy in places, and very funny in others.

    Thinking about -- what would be the perfect electronic music performance night... there were some aspects of that night that were close: people had some great feedback, several really good comments about my Guitron midi controller. I used my Tascam US-122 interface, it worked fine. Ottobar was great to have us. The people who work there are always cool.

    It was a challenge that I think was well met by all, it was pretty fun and well attended. But I'm seeing that the 'making the party happen aspect' is not something I'm good at and which does not a big appeal at all for me. And of course, the other side of the equation is the stuffy snooty artsy aspect ... there must be some happy median, I think.